The Very Reverend Dr John Hall Dean of Westminster
Wednesday, 6th May 2009 at 11:00 AM
A flower festival anywhere is a wonderful achievement. In a place like Westminster Abbey, and for a celebration such as the 50th anniversary of the National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies, it is bound to be a large-scale effort. It has been. The added complication has been the needs of the 20,000 people a week for whom a visit to the Abbey is a high-light of their time in London. This week that number will be boosted by the 5,000 or 6,000 visitors a day from Clubs around the country. This has led to much careful thought here between the Abbey staff and the festival chairman Pat Martin for which we are truly grateful, as we are to all who have designed and worked on the exhibits and to the members, friends and associates of NAFAS who have sponsored them: 300 flower arrangers representing Areas and Clubs throughout the United Kingdom have staged over 100 exhibits; each of the 21 Areas of NAFAS has been represented with arrangers from a Club in each Area; there have been up to 60 individual designers.
Everyone I have spoken to here at the Abbey is impressed with the achievement. I wish to express my own congratulation and admiration for the sympathetic and imaginative design and for the sheer dedicated work and effort of so many people through the last days and nights. This is a great celebration of the 50th anniversary of NAFAS, joined today by one of the founder members, Mrs Dorothy Cooke, and by Miss Julia Clements, who recently celebrated her 103rd birthday and who has been an international ambassador of the flower arranger’s art. This service also gives me an opportunity to mention the Dean and Chapter’s gratitude to Mrs Sue Slark and many NAFAS colleagues who come from all over the country to arrange flowers for big Abbey celebrations.
Later in the service we shall sing the hymn Rejoice! The Lord is King, which fits so well the theme of this festival. Now we have ringing in our ears the hymn When morning gilds the skies which honours Jesus Christ, the Word of God, in the context of God’s good creation: Be this, while life is mine, my canticle divine, may Jesus Christ be praised. We heard earlier the choir sing the Benedicite the canticle of creation, the song of the three in the Apocrypha. So we see at the heart of our theme a song of praise to God for the wonderful work of creation. We acknowledge Almighty God as the source of beauty, as the source of the whole created order. We see in the beauty of flowers not just the result of a random process of development over many millennia but the revelation of order and purpose in the creation. ‘And indeed it was very good.’ [Genesis 1: 31] That does not deny the process of evolution but sees a loving and beautiful purpose behind the process. Whilst science struggles to find the answer to the question How, religion confidently offers an answer to the question Why: God’s order, Beauty, and God’s purpose, Love.
You no doubt remember the old Punch cartoon. The Vicar is looking over a garden fence and admiring the beauty of the garden. He waxes lyrical. ‘How wonderful’, he said, ‘is the beauty of the creation. What a great gardener is God.’ He was addressing the remark in general but also to the old gardener pulling out the weeds. The gardener’s response was somewhat less than lyrical: ‘You should have seen the garden when he had it to himself.’
In the book of Genesis there is explicit mention of humanity’s role as steward of the creation. Human beings when they are created by God receive a mission to govern creation. Man and woman, who are the ‘image of God’ [Genesis 1: 27], receive the order to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it, and to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and every living thing that moves upon the earth. This dominion is not in the mind of the Creator for our own ends or for our own satisfaction but in order to make all the potential of creation shine. That is a fine description of the art of the flower arranger: to make the beauty of creation shine. But in general how terrible is humanity’s failure to live up to that calling! Rather, we are governed by greed and carelessness leading to the despoliation of beauty and the degradation of the creation, to the ecological abyss. We must pray and work to recover our true place in God’s created order as stewards not as exploiters or despots. A first step is to re-learn the importance of worship. We worship God not because God needs our worship but because we need to worship God; the alternative is worshipping ourselves, with disastrous consequences. This great festival is itself a wonderful act of worship offered to Almighty God.
May the theme of this festival ring out across our land: Rejoice! The Lord is King. 'O all ye green things upon the earth, bless ye the Lord. O ye children of men, bless ye the Lord. Let us praise him and magnify him for ever.'